Harm reduction, hepatitis C and how we can reduce liver cancer

Note from an individual who received assistance from one of our harm reduction grantees.

The Department of Health and Human Services has signed on to the bold goal set by the World Health Organization to reduce viral hepatitis by 2030. However, recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites new hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections have more than tripled in the last five years as a result of the ongoing opioid crisis in the U.S. People who contract hepatitis B or hepatitis C are at the greatest risk for liver cancer. According to the CDC, approximately 65% of the active cases of liver cancer are related to viral hepatitis B or C, with nearly 50% attributable to hepatitis C alone.

In addition to the viral impact of hepatitis-related infections, drug-related overdose deaths reached an all-time high from 2020 to 2021 at more than 104,000. Studies show that people who inject drugs have benefited from harm reduction programs such as Syringe Service Programs (SSPs). SSPs encourage clean needle exchange and education about hepatitis C and why it is important to get tested and treated if necessary. However, harm reduction program operations were severely disrupted during the last two years due to COVID-19 and budget cuts, even though the opioid crisis continues at an exponential pace and hepatitis C cases are on the rise.

In order to meet communities where they are and address the root cause of liver cancer, the Prevent Cancer Foundation created a microgrant program to help harm reduction sites that focus on SSPs and hepatitis C testing. In 2021, through the generous support of funders Gilead and AbbVie—industry partners who have treatments for hepatitis C—the Prevent Cancer Foundation issued 20 microgrants to start-up and newly established harm reduction programs in eight states.

“Without the funds from The Prevent Cancer Foundation, many of our participants would have been at risk of overdose in Austin,” said Ana Rosa Granados, Service Director at the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance. “Austin has been brutally hit by overdoses due to the lack of resources the city has but Texas Harm Reduction Alliance and its supporters have been fighting back and many lives have been saved in the last year.”

In addition to helping prevent overdoses, the funding for these programs was critical at a time when federal support banned the purchase of new needles to supply at harm reduction sites and when state funding was nearly obsolete due to the shift in focus to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The Foundation, in an effort to save lives across all populations through cancer prevention and early detection, also provided educational brochures for people who inject drugs (PWID) to increase awareness of the importance of testing for hepatitis C.

“[The Houston Harm Reduction Alliance] is proud to have partnered with Prevent Cancer Foundation to expand and sustain our service outreach during 2021 and are interested in continuing to work together to help our community raise hepatitis awareness and ultimately reduce the incidence of liver cancer,” said Jeff Ondocsin, President of the Houston Harm Reduction Alliance.

The Prevent Cancer Foundation hopes to continue this great work as we announce a new grant cycle application coming soon through AbbVie’s generous support. Learn more about hepatitis C and liver cancer.

Listed below are the sites supported during our 2021 microgrant cycle:

Alliance of Border Collaboratives

El Paso, Texas

Angels in Motion

Philadelphia, Pa.

Bexar Arm Reduction Alliance

Bexar, Texas

Central Arkansas Harm Reduction Project

Little Rock, Ark.

First Integrated Community Care Services

Lilburn, Ga.

Harbor Counseling

Wellsboro, Pa.

Houston Harm Reduction

Houston, Texas

Michalene’s Mission

Drums, Pa.

Mississippi Harm Reduction Initiative

Ridgeland, Miss.

My New Leaf, Inc.

Saltburgh, Pa.

Prevention Point Philadelphia

Philadelphia, Pa.

Prevention Point Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, Pa.

Operation in my Backyard

Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Operation in my Backyard

Philadelphia, Pa.

San Antonio Nexus Connect

San Antonio, Texas

Savage Sisters Recovery Inc.

Philadelphia, Pa.

Stop Harm on Tulsa Streets

Tulsa, Okla.

Sunday Love Project

Philadelphia, Pa.

Texas Harm Reduction Alliance

Austin, Texas

Vivent Health 

Milwaukee, Wis.